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How to Uprgrade Your Road Fork

A new fork is a sensible upgrade that can improve performance and reduce the weight of just about any road bike. If you have a threadless fork, don’t worry, installation is not difficult. If you have a threaded system, you can upgrade to threadless in just a few easy steps. If you are not sure of the type you have, ask yourself a few questions:

What size is my fork’s steerer tube? The steerer tube is the part of the fork that passes through the frame’s head tube and headset bearings. There are 2 popular sizes of steerer tube diameters: 1 inch and 1 1/8 inch. Most road bikes produced after 2002 are 1 1/8”. If your bike is older or you are not sure, measure your steerer tube. Measuring is easily done with a normal ruler. Remove the stem top cap and measure across the top of the fork steerer tube, outside diameter. It is easy as that!

Note: If your bike is the older, 1” threaded type, you may be limited on carbon fiber options. However, there are plenty of 1” threadless forks and components on the market to make the switch to a threadless system, which is still an upgrade over the older threaded style.

What is the Rake (offset) of my fork? The rake of a fork effects how a bicycle handles, the amount of toe/ front wheel overlap, and the length of the wheelbase. Rake can be hard to measure; for best results, contact your bike or fork manufacturer to confirm your rake specifications. You do not need to install a fork with identical rake; as long as you understand what effects will take place with the change. Generally, less rake will produce a more stable feel at low speeds, cause more toe overlap and shorten the wheelbase. More rake will reduce low speed stability/ increase high speed stability, cause less toe overlap, and increase the wheelbase.

What type of fork blade do you prefer? Many manufacturers offer a choice in fork blade styles (sometimes called fork legs):

  • Straight blade. This style has the fork rake incorporated into the crown. The blades angle outward and are completely straight all the way down to the fork ends (dropouts). This style has a reputation for having a stiffer, more responsive ride characteristic and is preferred by some racers and/or aggressive riders.
  • Curved blade. This style has the rake incorporated as a gradual curve from the crown to the fork ends. Traditionally, this feature is designed to absorb road shock. This style is generally preferred by riders looking for a smooth, comfortable ride for long distance riding and racing.
Note: Whether or not curved carbon fiber fork blades truly offer more shock absorption over straight fork blades is debatable; there is clearly a difference in aesthetics. You might like the racy, contemporary look of a straight blade fork, or maybe the timeless, traditional look of a curved blade fork. Performance-wise, you cannot go wrong with either style. Choose the blade type that suits you better.

Stock carbon forks on most road bikes will have either a Cro-Mo steel steerer tube or an aluminum alloy steerer tube. The fork crowns (where the 2 fork blades come together) will usually be aluminum. Here are three types of aftermarket forks to consider:

  • Alloy steerer. The fork blades are carbon fiber; the rest of the fork is aluminum. This style has a reputation for providing good durability and will be the most affordable choice. This style is a good upgrade for all-aluminum or all-steel forks and is a great choice for riders who prefer a higher handlebar height. Aluminum steerers can support a taller stack of spacers under the stem.
  • Carbon steerer. The blades and steerer are carbon fiber, but the crown and fork ends are aluminum. Carbon steerer tubes can reduce quite a bit of weight and have a reputation for absorbing road shock. Many manufacturers put a limit on the “stack height”, or number of spacers used under your stem (about 30-40mm) for carbon steerer tubes, making this style best suited for high-performance club riders and racers who prefer a lower, more aggressive stem height. This style is a good upgrade over the aluminum steerer type forks for serious cycling enthusiasts.
  • Full carbon. The state-of-the-art in fork technology, and usually the most expensive. Many full-carbon forks are entirely made in one step or one piece (monocoque). The blades, crown, fork ends, and steerer tube are all carbon fiber. These are geared toward racers or anyone who wants the highest performance out of their cycling equipment.

See the chart below for characteristics of each:

Type: Full Carbon fiber Carbon Fiber Steerer and Blades Carbon Blades Only
Specs: Full carbon fiber steerer tube, crown, blades, and dropouts. Carbon steerer; aluminum crown; carbon blades; aluminum dropouts Aluminum (sometimes Cro-Mo steel) steerer; aluminum crown; carbon blades; aluminum dropouts.
Intended Use: Racing; highest level of performance. Racing; High performance club rider or racer; Long rides/ centuries. Good upgrade over a carbon blade-only fork. High-performance enthusiast/occasional racer; Good upgrade from a full-aluminum or all-steel fork; Can support a taller stack of spacers for a higher bar height. Great for light touring and recreational riders too.
Weight: 290-340 grams 370-440 grams 425 to 496 grams

To replace your existing threadless fork you will need the following:

Notes:
If you are looking to raise your handlebar by leaving the steerer tube long you will need an appropriate amount of spacers.

Many high-performance Carbon fiber forks only allow tire widths of 23-25mm. If you plan to run wider tires, check with the fork manufacturer to confirm tire clearance specifications.

A repair manual can help you avoid many common problems during installation. If still have questions about upgrading your fork, feel free to contact Performance Bikes tech support:

Email: productsupport@performancebike.com

Phone: 800.553.8324 (TECH)